Thursday, April 23, 2009

Last night I brewed again, this one was for Beth and Ivan's wedding. I'll be kind of proud to have my own keg sitting alongside a couple kegs from Ivan (brewer for Yazoo) as well as a Yazoo keg. Last night's beer was another of my bitters but, yet again, with a little variation. This time I added some biscuit malt which had the effect of lightening the beer a little, it seems. My perspective may have to do with it being dark outside, but we'll see what the end product looks like and how it tastes. I would prefer, however, to get a deeper, richer color. It sure tastes good, though. I used a British combination of Kent Goldings hops for bittering and some Challenger for aroma. I also went back to my favorite English Ale yeast. This should be a good one.

I like having 15 gallons of beer in fermenters at the house. Last night I cleaned out both of my kegs and cleaned my keg lines in preparation for kegging on Sunday or Monday. New, fresh beer is always something to look forward to.

Beer Wars
I don't really have much to say about the Beer Wars movie I went to. It was less than spectacular, and wasn't as focused in direction as I had hoped. Actually, it ended up being more about one person's struggle to get her idea/product to market than anything else. There is more to it, but let's just say it all made sense when it was revealed that the movie director comes from the same segment of the beer market as this other lady (with the new idea). They work on fringe products that are less accurately craft beers than fringe beer(malt) products that are trying to get some market share. (The director's brand was Mike's Hard Lemonade. The other lady was trying to sell a caffeinated beer called Moonshot.)

If you are interested in a perspective from someone who is more knowledgeable of the industry, check out this blog. I appreciate most of what he has to say. I think his argument that craft brewers actually "own" more retail space than their actual marketshare would dictate is accurate, at least in the stores where I frequent. A full half of the Harris Teeter beer section, for one, is devoted to craft brewers, as well as a couple endcaps and free-standing displays. I know this isn't anywhere near the case in rural groceries I have been in, but then again, if they had so many craft beers, they would probably just sit on the shelves. I may be wrong, but I think that distributors and retailers will usually stock what has the best chance of selling to their market....

Anyway... I think it is a great time to be a beer drinker with so many options.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Today I brewed (and more).

Today I brewed beer. Today it was my favorite English style bitter recipe, sometimes referred to as an ESB. I call mine the "daily bitter" because it is a beer I could be happy drinking everyday (as long as I get the occasional highly hopped beer to satisfy that craving). The Fuller's ESB is one of my favorite beers and the one that other ESB's are based on. Well, I had been looking for it to be carried locally so I could make it a standard beer to keep around, and this weekend, I finally saw it while at the whole foods buying some brewing water. The irony of this beer's arrival to my local shelves, and the reason I didn't make that purchase, was that each six pack cost $12.99. Crazy. I did contemplate it for a few minutes. Then I looked down at my real reason for heading to whole foods. Brewing water. (The whole foods is the only place I know of around here to get jugs filled with filtered water.) The water in my cart was intended for my own ESB. And I can tailor my own ESB to however I want it to taste. I haven't disappointed myself yet. So I skipped the Fullers and went home to drink some of my own. One batch costs me close to $50 and that takes into account the energy to brew, the cost of water, and any consumables that I use in my brewing process. From each batch, I get 5 gallons of beer, which is a little more than 2 cases. 2 cases of ESB would cost, without tax, about $104. So I am getting my beer at half the price, and it is always fresh from the tap. So if you were looking for a good reason to start homebrewing....

A little more on the money side of it... I recognize that getting "up to speed" costs money, and a decent amount at that, but as long as I keep brewing for, say, 5 years, and I brew 20 batches per year (that's 100 gallons of beer per year ;-) ), that cost spread over that 100 batches approaches negligible (in my mind anyway). And the cost of batches can vary widely. As one would expect, though, the beers that typically cost more to make at home also tend to be the more expensive beers in the grocery. So a high-gravity beer costs more for everyone to make, as do highly hopped beers and beers with premium malts. One area that I tend to spend more money on than some others is yeast. I always purchase liquid yeast vials from White Labs that I can just pitch into my wort after a brew. A vial typically costs about $7, which is a premium when you consider a packet of dried yeast can be purchased for a buck. But I am convinced that the gain is definitely worth the extra money. For this reason, though, it is also handy to time batches in such a way that you can re-use that yeast in a safe (from contamination) manner. I could go further to cultivate and re-use yeast, but then the stress level goes up and the amount of work goes up and to me, that's just not worth it.... I am rambling, but the moral of the story is that I believe that the yeast is one ingredient that should never be sacrificed in the name of the mighty greenback.

The batch I brewed today was an example of re-used yeast. A week ago, I brewed what was supposed to be a California Red Ale (with some interesting hopping). It turned out great, but is less red than I expected. I think it is more of a pale ale, but it is a great tasting beer. I usually do not wait a full week before racking my beer to a secondary fermenter, but this week I was unable to do it any earlier; it all worked out for the best, though. While I was waiting for the mash to finish, I racked that CA Red (pale) ale and immediately sealed up the primary as soon as the siphon was finished. What was left at the bottom was a mess of yeast just ripe to eat on some malt sugars. Upon finishing my boil and cooling my wort (which is even more important when pouring on live yeast) I dumped my new beer on top of the yeast, sealed it and shook it a little to make sure it was mixed up well. One of the best things about this technique is that my new beer started fermenting within an hour. And not just a little, but a full accelerated fermentation. And my house smells great now.

So, back to the money... by using the yeast for 2 batches, the price paid for each just went down.

Note that to re-use yeast, it is a good idea to add some yeast nutrients to the boil in order to keep the yeast healthy.

And now for a few pictures....

I recently moved, so now all of my brewing has moved outside. It is sooo much nicer... but I haven't had to brew in the summer heat yet. Maybe with thoughtful planning, I can avoid it... So here is my new brewery.

This is that California Red Ale that isn't so red. Maybe I should call it a Tennessee Pale Ale?

And this is a nice big 4oz bag of Goldings hops I used in my daily bitter today. Mmm mmm.